Kim Jong-Il, His Family, And Their Secret Love For Japan (And Tokyo Disney)

If you ask most people, they’ll tell you that North Korea and Japan pretty much hate each other. This is probably true, for the most part. Japan is a festering pit of democracy that the Great / Brilliant Leaders of North Korea can’t tolerate. North Korea, on the other hand, builds nuclear weapons and attempts to shoot missiles over Japan and into the ocean, just to show that “hey, yeah dudes, we gots missiles n’ stuff.”

But this is just the surface. This is what the media tells you, and what everyone hears about. But did you know there’s a much deeper relationship? Ties and connections between the Kim family and Japan that you probably never imagined before? All of Kim Jong-Il’s family actually has some ties to Japan.. and some love for Japan as well, in one way or another. As I read in a great North Korean children’s book a long time ago…

“And what happened, then?
Well, in NK-ville they say -
that the Dear Leader’s small heart grew three sizes that day.
And then – the true meaning of Japan came through,
and the Dear Leader found the strength of *ten* Dear Leaders, plus two!”

Anyways, let’s check out the Kim family’s hidden love-hate relationship with Japan.

Kim Jong-Il: Lover Of Sushi

Ohhh Goddddd.... I hope he's pleased with this corn.

Kim Jong-Il, like his entire family (and country) lived a pretty secretive life. Most relationships he had with Japan weren’t particularly positive, though there were a couple things that stood out.

The first is his chef, Kenji Fujimoto (which is a pen name), who was Kim Jong-Il’s personal sushi chef from 1988 to 2001, who is a Japanese man that first visited North Korea in 1982. He was paid around $80,000 a year, given two Mercedes, and even became Kim Jong-Il’s  companion, “going shooting, riding, and water-skiing together.”

But, the most interesting part for a blog on Japan is the sushi-chef-ness of Kenji Fujimoto. He said that Kim Jong-Il loved to eat live fish (I don’t blame him, live fish are delicious), which is probably why he had a sushi chef. Besides this, Fujimoto would also travel the world for Kim Jong-Il, picking up various ingredients to cook for the Dear Leader. Even once an envoy was sent to China to get some McDonalds. I’m guessing they were doing a limited time McRib thing.

I'm Lovin' It!

Kenji Fujimoto later defected back to Japan, where he’s currently living in hiding. To get away, he showed Kim Jong-Il a video about sea urchins, and suggested he go get some from Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. Kim Jong-Il thought this was a great idea, so Fujimoto left, never to return again. It’s no wonder North Korea likes testing their missiles by shooting them over Japan… they know that Kenji Fujimoto is watching, from somewhere…

Kim Jong-Il also has one more positive relationship with Japan, though it’s a bit of a stretch. His consort, Kim Yong-Hee was a quarter Japanese and had two of Kim Jong-Il’s sons (and all his sons love Japan in one way or another).

Ko Yong-Hee: Born In Japan

Ko was actually born in Japan (in Osaka), though her parents were Korean. Poking around, it seems like she was part Japanese too, though I haven’t been able to pin down exact info on this. Either way, Kim Jong-Il’s second wife / mistress was from Japan, and didn’t move to North Korea until the age of 11 in 1961.

After Kim Jong-Il and Ko Yong-Hee hooked up, they had two children, both boys (Kim Jong-Il’s first wife only gave him a daughter, probably not good for succession).

Turns out the two boys, Kim Jong-Chul and Kim Jong-Un like Japan a decent amount, actually, supposedly influenced by their mother.

Kim Jong-Chul: Lover Of Tokyo Disney

Kim Jong-Chul, the son who was considered “too feminine and unfit for leadership” didn’t give too much love to Japan… that we know of. We do know his mother was from Japan. And we do know that he was kind of into Japan… but beyond that, there’s not much. Oh, and there’s the trip to Disneyland and Tokyo he and his brother (Kim Jong-Un) did fairly often when they were kids.

One particular case is known better than the others. On May 12, 1991, him, Kim Jong-Un (his brother), and his mother (Ko Yong-Hee), entered Japan and left 11 days later using Brazilian Passports with the pseudonym Joseph Pak. Japanese authorities even knew they were coming, but since they were already in the country when they knew about it, they just said “eh, okay, whatevs” and let them enjoy their time with Mickey Mouse and Pluto.

Although Kim Jong-Chul spent some quality time in Japan’s Magic Kingdom, really it’s his brother that has all the Japan-related love. His brother, aka “The Brilliant Leader.” Yup, the current leader of North Korea.

Kim Jong-Un: Lover Of Manga

Also the son of Ko Yong-Hee, Kim Jong-Un has a lot of secret love for Japan. He visited Tokyo Disneyland with his brother Kim Jong-Chul, you already know that. But, did you know he loves manga and gaming more than anything else?

First place in North Korean Succession, first place in looking like Android 19 from Dragonball, and first place in our otaku hearts.

The NYPost reported that when Android-19 Kim Jong-Un was going to school in a Swiss Boarding School (under a pseudonym, of course), classmates described that he is…

… an avid skier, a devoted reader of Japanese manga comics, an avid computer-game player, and fanatical about basketball — particularly the fortunes of the Chicago Bulls.

He originally wanted to play for the Chicago Bulls as well, but his weight, diabetes, height, and high blood pressure prevented him from joining the 1994 dream team. Still, because this dream could never be, I imagine his love for Manga and gaming only intensified. Oh, and where does manga generally come from? That’s right, Japan. Games? A lot come from Japan as well (unless he’s playing a lot of Homefront, which we can only hope he hasn’t). So, while he may officially have to hate Japan and everything that exists over there, he does love the otaku stuff… so when Japan’s invaded by North Korea, run to the manga-cafes. They’ll be the only places the troops won’t be allowed to raze.

Beyond that, we don’t know much about him. The current leader of North Korea visited Japan several times in his youth, had a mother with connections to Japan, and loves manga and gaming. We’ll see if this plays into the political relationship between Japan and North Korea in the future. Hopefully he didn’t learn his diplomacy from Freeza.

There’s only one more brother, and he’s the saddest story of them all. Meet playboy son Kim Jong-Nam, the boy who lost favor with his father for trying to visit Disneyland, just like his brothers.

Kim Jong-Nam: The Saddest Story Of Them All

Kim Jong-Nam is the least Kim-Jong-ish of the the clan. His mother wasn’t the Japan-mother, either. His mother was another mistress, Song Hye-rim. He has actually made several visits to Japan during his life, though one visit in particular is the most famous. He did visit so often though that he was known as a “familiar figure” at a bathhouse in Yoshiwara, which is one of Tokyo’s red light districts.

But, he had a softer side too. His other two brothers visited Japan and Tokyo Disney when they were kids. I’m guessing he was just jealous of them always talking about the good times they had on Magic Mountain and in the Pirates Of The Caribbean ride (the old, vastly superior one, of course). So, he finally decided to go. Grabbing his reliable Dominican Republic Passport while using the Chinese name Pang Xiong (which means “fat bear”) he headed off to Tokyo and landed in Narita, where he was promptly detained and deported to China. Why was he visiting Japan? According to him, it’s because he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland. See? Everyone just loves Japan’s Disneyland.

This caused a huge embarrassment to Kim Jong-Il, which also reportedly ruined Kim Jong-Nam’s chance to be the successor of North Korea. I think he probably lucked out, though – he doesn’t seem like the type who’d want to run a country anyways. All he wants is a picture of his happy, smiling face while going down Splash Mountain. Can’t a guy get a break?

The Future Of North Korea’s Love-Hate Relationship With Japan

Obviously, all problems between Japan and North Korea can be solved with Disney, manga, Final Fantasy 7, (and the Chicago Bulls). Most of these things are from Japan or acquirable in Japan. So, why not set up some kind of trade agreement? Japan will export more manga to North Korea (to help all the starving people, obviously), and North Korea will stop exporting missiles over Japan and into the Pacific. It’s a win-win for everyone, except the North Korean people, perhaps.

Maybe if for every diplomatic summit we sent Mickey Mouse things would turn around for the better. Couple that with a ride on “It’s A Small World” and I think you’ll get your world peace. I’m not politician, but that sounds pretty great to me.

P.S. Love your dear leader? Tofugu’s on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook.

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    Maybe all that time in Japan infected the Kim Jong children enough to make them, uh… better rulers?
    Don’t torture me!

  • Anonymous

    This seemed morally wrong in sooooo many ways and yet, I can’t help but, agree with you. Truly your insight exceeds far beyond Japan and cats (and Japanese cats).

  • http://thejrt.com/ JRT

    I’ll try that sea urchin trick the next time I need to leave work early…

  • Daniel Fawson

    I thought I remember reading somewhere that Kim Jong-Un has played Homefront, and loves it. Probably just a rumor. But if he had, that would be truly interesting, since within the game you are an ordinary citizen who has had his homeland invaded by none other than the villain – Jong-Un himself. I don’t know if this would have a positive or negative influence on his opinion of invading America. I’d like to think it would make him think twice, since the game makes you sympathize with the Americans. When you think about it this way, you might say the fate of the entire world could depend on whether or not some guy skips cutscenes.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    lolol for the very last sentence

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    and people say these posts aren’t educational. Learning about life, here.

  • Anonymous

    You’re right … you could get killed for this … and I could get killed for laughing my ass off the entire time I was reading this article!

  • Dy~

    This post only made my day better; I sipped hot cocoa all casual-like in a Les Paul mug with my Les Paul styled guitar behind me listening to Maximum the Hormone (who’s guitarist uses a Les Paul) and a debate going on the Fender Guitar Fans page raging in the background about Kurt Cobain v. Miley Cirus  *sigh* which quickly turned into a hate-fest over other people’s nationalities and religion, in which we touched on Buddhism – as we all know started in Asia which is where North Korea lives next to Japan (still can’t find it btw Koichi).

    And that is how one makes a long comment go full circle.

  • Cameron Foster

    You’ve completely misunderstood the Disney visits! They were there to learn more about communism. 7 dwarves living as equal comrades, making committee based decisions on productivity, frustrating the capitalist witch who is determined to monopolise the market in beauty.

    The haunted house, filled with relics of bourgeoisie land owning elites, is a statement about the inevitability of the western world collapsing and begging to embrace the wonderful lifestyle of the North Koreans

  • Amani Pitts

    Wait wait wait wait wait. You missed someone. What about the daughter? I am not up on my history but you said he has one. Sure she can’t be ruler or anything but where is her Japanese love? Is she hiding out with the chef somewhere?????

  • ZXNova

    Maybe America can sorta learn a lesson from North Korea and Japan… What lesson, well I dunno but something weird like this should happen with America and Cuba (or some other communist country.)

  • Anonymous

    Mansei! Manseeeeiii!!!

  • http://www.meow.fr Meow • Japan & Urbex

    Thanks a lot for this article. I’m actually going there in 5 days… and I can’t wait to share my photos and experience. As I live in Japan, they got really bothered by me visiting and called my family in France and all, quite scary. Well, we’ll see, I’m just really excited right now and looking forward to it.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Not very much is known about her, at least I couldn’t find much, especially Japan-related. That part will remain a mystery, I’m afraid.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Wow, that sounds really exciting. Looking forward to seeing your pictures from the trip!

  • Anonymous

    Still can’t say that things are better in North Korea right now (heck, I have no idea how they are now).  All I know is I heard that during Kim Jong-Il’s reign, having a cellphone meant you could be shot on site (or is it “on sight”?  Because it’s as soon as they see you, and it’s right where you are, soooo…)  I’ve also heard about an old woman dissing the government in public and getting shot immediately afterward… and people getting shot for trying to escape over the border.  It’s worse than a prison there.

    But it’s interesting to learn that they’ve all got ties to Japan, somehow.  Just pray that Kim Jong-Un will not be the same terror his father was (like  I said, I don’t know how things are over there right now).

  • Kman

    So all Japan and US have to do is send over Michael Jordan, Toriyama and Miyamoto with signed copies of a Basketball shirt, Dragonball volume and Mario Bros respectively? Lets do this.

  • http://thoanguyen.org/ Thoa

    Lmao. This was hilarioussss and very eye-opening, especially the Brilliant Leader loving Japan.